Fast Learner

Now, what's that in hexadecimal?”

“Um...” Luis managed, his face contorted with a mix of consternation and concentration.

“You remember hexadecimal, don't you?”

“Get real, man!” he shot back, blushing with insulted pride.

“Well, where's the problem homes?”

A deeply introspective expression animated the pupil's face, and he opened his mouth to speak when the school bell rang. “Well, we'll try it again tomorrow,” the teacher said to the tattoo of Luis' sneakers as they carried Luis out of the classroom door and down the hall.

Bill sank into his worn oak swivel chair at the teacher's desk and emitted a sigh barely audible over the growing cacophony of students flooding the corridor at recess. He pushed his glasses up on his forehead with both fists and rubbed his slightly bloodshot and burning eyes.

“How's the master pedagogue this fine morning?” Tim's voice sounded in a practiced professional pitch intended to convey optimism and authority. Bill's delayed response reflected a lack of sleep caused by his latest affair. He hoped it came across as careful rumination.

“We seem to have hit another snag at memory blocks and hexadecimal,” he finally replied, adjusting his specs and eyeing the assistant principal's impeccably professional grooming. Tim's flawless coiffure and pressed, stylish shirt reminded Bill that he had not showered in five days, but at least he hopefully camouflaged his funk in sufficient deodorant, cologne and clean clothes. Bill's hygiene suffered from the time‑consuming nightly hedonism with Wild Donna.

“We may have to try another tack with Luis,” Bill offered. Tim's left eyebrow arched in inquiring anticipation. Bill's renewed eye‑rubbing bought him more time as he recalled the strategy he was using in Luis' teaching. “Let's go grab some coffee in the lounge while we discuss this,” Bill said. “Sounds good to me,” Tim replied.

Bill shovelled some papers into his briefcase and slung it under his arm. As the two teachers headed down the hall toward the lounge, Bill began to discuss his strategy. “I've reached a plateau in the effectiveness of the transdermals at this stage,” he began, referring to the devil's brew of methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and Du Pont TA‑437 he administered to Luis every morning before classes. “TA” stood for “teaching agent,” one of the family of new compounds being used to enhance involuntary absorption of information presented in an educational setting.

“I think adding the stimulator at this point will speed us over this hurdle,” he continued. The stimulator was an electronic teaching aid that could be plugged into the surgically implanted jack located at the intersection of Luis' spinal column and skull. The device could be switched to various intensity settings for either positive or negative reinforcement. NeuroTek, the IBM and Eli Lilly consortium which developed and marketed the fantastically popular and profitable device, disavowed the popular notion that it operated on the crude but effective principles of pleasure and pain, since it had no outward physical effects. However, the facial expressions of someone under its influence told an altogether different story. Nonetheless, its dramatic impact on various behavior modification industries from penology to pedagogy overwhelmed the objections of its moralistic detractors.

Bill nervously fingered the stimulator jack behind his left ear as he brought the topic up. When he acquired his implant, the stimulator was still a relatively experimental device, and its application was strictly controlled by laws requiring that its use be totally voluntary. Bill attributed his attainment of both a Ph.D. in behavioral neurology and an M.D. within 3 years to its judicious self‑application. His success made it much easier for him to accept its increasingly widespread involuntary application in teaching and behavior modification.

“So the regular rewards and demerits aren't enough together with the transdermals to jump this hurdle in your opinion?” Tim asked.

“Well, it's not a matter of their inability to influence the lad's progress,” Bill replied. “It's more a matter of the time constraints we have in this project. As you well know, Luis' corporate sponsor has awarded us with his contract on the condition of some pretty specific goals that we have to attain by the time he's 18.”

“What were they again? They expect him to become one of their chief systems design experts by then — or something like that?”

“Well, without getting bogged down in specifics, we've agreed to train him to the level of a double — no, actually a triple Ph.D. by the time the contract runs out when he's 18.”

“So that gives us, what, six more years?” “Five and a half, actually. But because his parents contracted with us to take over, and because of the leeway we're granted by the Federal Exceptional Pupils Development Act, we can concentrate on his training without a lot of childhood ephemera making demands on his time,” Bill replied as they reached the coffee counter in the teachers' lounge.

“No teaching tricks to puppy dogs, no newspaper routes, and no teenage lust getting in the way, eh?” “With a child of Luis' exceptional potential, such trivial childhood activities would be an incredible waste of developmental potential. Frankly, they'd run counter to the imperative of speeding up his development toward a precocious economic contribution.”

“Point well taken,” Tim replied, pouring them both a mug of steaming coffee. “It's kids like Luis and teaching like this that'll enable us to regain all the ground we've lost to Japan economically.”

“With the subliminal motivation orientation we provide him during his sleep and daily video viewing, he'll never miss the crap most teenagers find indispensable to their happiness,” Bill continued. “Frankly, he's happy as a clam just striving to meet his instructional quotas. He's really living justification of the whole program. He was as happy mastering integral calculus as any average kid would be learning how to masturbate.” “Yes, Luis is quite an exceptional lad,” Tim said, nodding sagely.

Bill took a deep draught of his coffee and made a satisfied‑sounding sigh. He basked in Tim's appreciation of his student's abilities and felt the accolades reflected positively on his own accomplishments as Luis' mentor. The retainer paid by Luis' future employer added significantly to the school's financial viability, and Bill felt their investment would pay off handsomely in the research and development department. Bill also felt good about enabling Luis to have such a great head start in his career.

“Well, I've got to be getting back to work, recess is almost over,” Bill said, draining his mug. After setting it on a tray in front of the dishwashing room, he headed out the door with a friendly nod toward Tim.

Dusk had settled over the campus by the time Bill had finished the administrative paperwork and headed across the shady grove of eucalyptus trees toward his car. A twig snapped behind him, and before he could react, two sets of arms grabbed him from behind. A plug violently snapped into his stimulator jack, and someone stepped out from behind a tree trunk in front of him and drenched his face with fluid.

Blinking drops from his eyes, Bill focused on Luis holding an empty jar of transdermal solution. Bill jerked involuntarily as the stimulator was cranked to maximum negative reinforcement.

“On your knees, asshole! We're going to teach you some tricks!” Luis crowed, waving the stimulator's control. As his knees began to buckle, Bill gasped in admiration. “Christ, these kids learn fast!”

--R.L. Tripp